Humidity made the evening summer air so thick it felt as though it could be parted and moved aside with human hands. Moisture pooled around his neck and dripped down his back and chest as sweat. His whole body felt sticky and confined.
"Hot..." the dark-haired man groaned.
His bedclothes moved. "Watanuki!"
"Maru, Moro," the man, Watanuki groaned. "Get off me, please."
"We need sake!" both girls chirped together.
"Maybe after our latest job," Watanuki yawned as he dragged himself out of the soaked bedclothes, rolling up and dumping the linen on the ground. "Come on, let's hang this up first."
"Yay!" the twins assisted in pulling the pile through the labyrinthe hallways of the Shop and towards the clothesline, already prepared in a specific beam of sunlight... with a body face-down and bleeding.
"Watanuki, he's here!" the black rabbit manju better known as Mokona Modoki chirped as it bounced around the body carefully armoured in some light plates similar to leather tights. From his middle protruded a long red spear, and from one hand dangled the remains of a yellowed spear.
Watanuki did not panic when faced with this bizarre occurrence. "Maru, Moro, some help here. It looks like we've delayed the washerwoman long enough."
"Yes!" the twins carried the injured and unconscious man as Watanuki unpinned the clothesline that hung over the small stream that was trailing under it for some unknown reason.
As Watanuki and Mokona went back into the house and the screens were slid shut, the stream faded away, as if just a dream...
Do all of you really want... to win that badly? You all want the Grail so much? Even... willing to trample on my only true wish... Do none of you feel any shame at all?! Unforgivable... I'll never forgive any of you for this! All of you monsters who'd disregard a knight's honour for personal gain... Let my blood stain that dream! Let the Grail be Cursed! Let the wish it grants bring disaster! When you fall into the frying pits of hell... Remember the rage of Diarmuid!
"There is a special providence in the fall of a sparrow." the masculine voice murmured. "If it be now, 'tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come – the readiness is all. Since no man, of aught he leaves, knows what is't to leave betimes, let be1. Oh. You're awake."
A faint, sweet smell tickled his nose as consciousness drifted close. Surprisingly, there was no pain now...
He sat up. The room was traditionally Japanese, his brain supplied. Minimalist furnishings, the most elaborate being the circular redwood double doors with an elaborate flower pattern set in mother-of-pearl he was currently facing. He shifted around; the motif seemed to be transience; butterflies and smoky swirls abounded, as well as the sweetish smells of faint opiates or tobacco of a sort, yet he ignored all of that to face him.
There was a man sitting on the chaise lounge. He wore an elaborate kimono that was perhaps a size too large for him. It was slipping a bit off his frame to reveal perfect shoulders, a delicate neck and a small peak at a pale chest. One of his legs was propped up on a mahogany coffee table in front of him, the slit of the kimono revealing skin clean up to his thigh. He was lazily smoking from a long pipe in one of his slender hands, a smile on his lips. Slender fingers juggled the small bowl on its reddish stem. The man was achingly beautiful, perhaps built along more feminine lines than he himself, but still a carefully cultivated beauty.
"W- Where..." he shook his head. "I... I died."
"So you did," answered the man. "Death is but a mere spectrum of existences. Even till now you are a mere shadow of the existence placed with the Throne of Heroes. It was a matter of waylaying the washerwoman."
He looked down, past the cotton sheets that covered him to the two spears. "Gae Dearg... and Gae Buidhe... and my swords. They're intact."
"The fixing of your blades was covered in the cost paid," was his reply. "This is a shop that grants wishes, and I am the keeper of this Shop. You may address me as Watanuki Kimihiro, former Servant Lancer."
The man quickly sat up. "Then... Heaven's Feel-"
"That would depend." Watanuki shrugged. "The wish paid by your saviour covered the maintenance of your blades, information up to and including the Fifth Holy Grail War, and the aftermath of what happened after." He took another drag from his pipe, completely at ease. "That it would mean having to waylay you from the cursed Grail is... well, a bonus."
The smoke blown out drew a Celtic knot of ethereal smoke as a pair of twins, one with blue and one with brown hair, dragged a mirror out of the side room, large enough to span a man's width and height. Lines were inscribed in its dark-wood frame, the patterns unreadable at a single glance.
"We should start at the beginning," Watanuki's Celtic knot of smoke drifted across the smooth surface, the metal rippling as the fumes touched the reflection, distorting to the memorable scene of his death. The shop's newest entrant could only watched as his former Master and Master's fiancée were horribly gunned down.
"Lord Kayneth Archibald El-Melloi, and his fiancée Sola-Ui Nuada-Re Sophia-Ri, were killed in the immediate conclusion following your death by your own unwitting hand," Watanuki commentated. "The rest of the War can be summarised in deaths, and more deaths, and ultimately the truth behind the Holy Grail. A corrupted thing that is too good to be true, and yet... humans are the strangest creatures."
Perhaps the Lancer should not be too happy about the ultimate series of events, but there was some vindication at seeing them get their comeuppance. "I do not know if to be satisfied or to be vindicated."
Watanuki nodded. "Saber, forced to destroy the Grail by her own hand... so ended the Fourth Heaven's Feel. We move forward ten years later, to the unexpected Fifth and last Heaven's Feel."
"The last?" the first knight of the Fianna echoed as the images flashed across the mirror.
"The assorted plans at play here would be going very, very wrong due to the actions of a no-name, no-count, utterly talentless Magus by the name of Emiya Shirou." Watanuki idly commented. "He had no magic worth mentioning, no combat experience of note, and no plan foror knowledge of the war he was about to enter. He did, however, have one trait that had derailed a countless number of such grand, far-reaching schemes throughout history. You see, he really, really wanted to be a hero."
It was like watching a natural disaster, seeing powerful, beautiful, determined and relentless Saber be paired to this man. The bright-faced warrior nearly laughed at the series of events unfolding of the Fifth Heaven's Feel; Irisviel's daughter, the student of Kiritsugu, Archer, the Tohsaka, Matou and Einzbern families, Kotomine...
He frowned as the Lancer of the Fifth War was forced to commit suicide in the mirror. "The Hound of Ulster... I supposed this is the shared luck of our ancestry at work2."
Watanuki merely gave an enigmatic smile as events continued to unfold, the true nature of the Grail, the horror that had taken untold lives, and finally the end... the Grail destroyed.
The silence was only broken as the twins set out a few cups and a bottle, each pouring out four shares.
"These two are Maru and Moro," Watanuki indicated the twins as a black rabbit and a small, slender fox-like creatures bounced onto his couch. "Mokona is the black manju, and the pipe-fox spirit is named Mugetsu."
"Felicitations, servitor of the Inari," the first spear of the Fianna nodded towards the creature. "And, shopkeeper, why am I here?"
"To show you," Watanuki nodded. "The truth, and nothing more. That your revenge is gotten, son of Donn."
He knows. Words and names contained power. The son of Donn closed his eyes. "So I would have had nothing more than what I began with..."
One long hand beckoned him forward. "Come closer, let's get a good look at you."
His feet obliged all on their own, even though he did not tell himself to do so. He gritted his teeth in frustration. "What do you intend with me, shop-keeper?"
"Hmm..." the man smiled, as if he'd just sipped a fine cup of alcohol. "You tell me, then. What would you have? Though you fear not death itself, but rather its ability... in the end, I did not drag you here. Only those with wishes may come to this store, and have their wishes granted at an equivalent price. And you... I may have set the line to waylay you, son of Donn, grandson of Duibhne, but it was the strongest impulse of the spirit that led you here. Though you are but a shadow of thyself, what is it you wish for?"
"To serve a worthy master," was the immediate, unhesitating answer. "What manner of fair folk are you, to have waylaid the washerwoman of the ford, to have snatched me from death?"
"I? Merely a humble shopkeeper," was the reply. "As far as I know... you have two options. One is that you may return to the Throne of Heroes as a completed existence, and nothing more. Possibly, you may forget that we ever had this conversation."
The warrior gripped his spears. "And the other?"
"You may contract the services of our shop," Watanuki offered, as if it were a consideration that had only just occurred to him. "By relating your story, and your wish, we will do out utmost best to fulfil that wish where possible. Though, frankly, your luck is terrible, and I do not guarantee that the tragedy that so ruled your life will not repeat."
"Yet you do not ask what I want to know."
"I already know that much." Watanuki archly replied. "Your fate was what brought you here. You came because of a wish. You stayed because there are things you want to know. That which you wish to know the most is already clear. Hence, in order to give the correct result, only the end result will be told. Only the result you seek. No more, no less. And in exchange, I will give you the price. Should you wish to serve a master, your fate is no longer something to be determined by thyself, but by thy master. That is the price of your wish."
The former Lancer stiffened. "I do not find it wise to bargain with the Tuatha De Danann."
"I am as human as you are."
"That is not very human."
"It is enough. I am someone who will carry out my job, for otherwise it is pointless." Watanuki spread his arms. "Well, grandson of Duibhne, first knight of the Fianna?"
The other held himself back from simply striking the man who had been talking in circles. "How am I still material?"
"The shop has been supplying your power since you were swept here." Watanuki amusedly replied. "What are you thinking of, really? Given the few options of your life currently, and you focus on something completely unrelated."
"M- My apologies. I was merely curious... assuming that I were to avow myself to a new lord, I... was just thinking."
"Self-preservation," Watanuki nodded. "Well, it costs nothing to give you some time. Food?"
Lancer blinked, as he realised that in the short span of their discussion the low table had a meal laid out. A bowl of milk, a saucer of honey, a loaf of wheat bread already sliced, and an assortment of snacks with the tea. Maru, Moro, Mokona and Mugetsu had already set their own places as well as two more, and they were now glaring at Watanuki as if he stood between them and the manna of heaven.
One more pair of eyes joined them as Lancer realised that they were now glaring at him. He took a place. The glares immediately gave way to smiles.
Watanuki sighed. "Begin."
The bread was crisply baked, the honey sweet and the milk coldly refreshing. Even if the meal itself was simple, there was some taste that he appreciated in seeing the three strange beings fight for the food. "They..."
"Maru and Moro?" Watanuki guessed. "You are right. They are... soulless. Their only purpose is to hold the shop. And Mokona... well, Mokona is Mokona."
The former Servant decided to take that at face value. There was no other way to define it otherwise. "And Inari's servitor?"
"Mugetsu... is what you would call my familiar, I suppose," Watanuki shrugged. "What do you know of them?"
"They are tricksters," the knight conceded halfway through his own offering of bread. "The code of chivalry does not match well with that of tricksters, but I suppose that foxes are something else entirely. Shape-changers, possession, illusion, the foxes of the East have powerful legends behind them."
"Perhaps more than that," Watanuki added, accepting Mugetsu nuzzling his arm as he offered a piece of honey-drenched buttered bread. "If I recall, your history involves the beings known as the fair folk. In the East, I could probably tell you that foxes are regarded by us the same way you regarded the good folk, that is, with caution."
"I will take that under assessment," the spearman demurred. "This is very good bread. I can see why you offer it to the servitor."
"I baked the bread. Mugetsu will eat almost anything I cook for him." Watanuki's eyes glimmered with pride.
"My compliments to the chef, then."
Both girls giggled. "Watanuki, another!"
"Enough," Watanuki admonished. "You'll spoil your dinner. And we still have a customer, remember?"
"Customer!" both chorused dutifully.
"Watanuki is mean!" Mokona yelled, and got smacked by the pipe-fox for his trouble.
All too soon, the loaf had been reduced to empty air, the saucer cleaned out, and the jug of milk stood empty.
"Very well," Watanuki offered once the meal was concluded and the table in the process of clearing, offering a towel to the former Servant. "Now that we have shared a meal, and conversation, I suppose it time to conclude our business."
"It would be a miracle to take up arms once more," the man nodded, now seated on both knees in seiza. His green armour was not even stained. "I am afraid. That this is a dream, and I would return unknowing to the Throne of Heroes once more. But... that is it. I am a black knight, a master-less knight, and I have no way to repay you."
"I can think of one." Watanuki suggested.
"What is it?"
"Work for me."
Watanuki's feet hit the ground as the Japanese man strolled to the nearest screens, sliding them open to show a garden that the knight of Fianna supposed would have been beautiful in the absence of the green mist shrouding it. "I cannot leave the shop. Maru and Moro have to remain to keep the shop existing, and hence they cannot leave either. Mokona cannot interact with humans, and thus there is that problem. I have agents, free peoples that run errands, provide food, not to mention the myriad of customers I receive through the gates of this shop that straddles many worlds."
As he spoke, the mist seemed to advance, encroaching further towards Watanuki. "That is not to mention, my complete inability to fight. I require eyes, arms, legs, a sword."
The first knight of Fianna considered. "Then I think I see your predicament."
Watanuki smiled. "Be my eyes, my sword, my light, my way out, until you have worked off the debt incurred from your wish. Until that time, I will be your master, and you my knight. Your self placed under me, while our fates lie in your hand. For my fate, the fate of this shop, Maru, Moro, Mokona, Mugetsu, they depend on me, no, on us."
The knight of Fianna studied him. "I have nowhere else to go."
"The Throne of Heroes will accept you."
"I... I wish to achieve something more. More than just stealing the beloveds of my lords... I wish for service." He moved, one knee touching the tatami. "I, Diarmuid Ua Duibhne, son of Donn, first Knight of the Fianna that served Fionn mac Cumhail in the Clann Baíscne3. I acknowledge you, Lord Watanuki Kimihiro, as my true and only master beginning from the moment of oath. On my honour, I will serve you until such a time when my service is deemed unnecessary. Ere I to be released from my service to Watanuki Kimihiro, I shall have the freedom, time and resources to decide my next step."
There was a moment of silence. "You give a lot of things, son of Donn."
"Because I am needed, and you will give it."
"You ask for many things too. But that is fine. One needs to protect oneself from masters, after all." There was an air of solemnity as Watanuki raised both hands, his actions slow, measured and intended to buy time. "I, Watanuki Kimihiro, do accept Diarmuid, son of Donn, grandson of Duibhne, first Knight of the Fianna of Fionn mac Cumhail. On my word, on my power, I do indeed promise to fulfil the role of master to Diarmuid Ua Duibhne to the best of my ability, including all obligations of care where needed. By obligation, while Diarmuid Ua Duibhne is placed within my service he may expect no harm that will come of my vengeance or as a result of my hand, whether active or whether my hand is stayed in ignorance. Here is my oath. Now," Watanuki remained placid as hands emerged from the mist. "Do you job."
The red spear, Gae Dearg, pierced through swiftly and quickly, scarlet blood spattering the ground for a moment before the wail pierced through the air. The injured woman screamed as she staggered back, her form shattering into a multitude of colours.
The mist swept back, and by some accident or plumbing error, there was now a river running under the clothesline still stretched. There stood a squat, hunched figure in green. Her hands were submerged in the river, gripping onto some sort of cloth she periodically pulled out to re-dunk.
"Washerwoman," the former Lancer bowed.
"Looks like I win." Watanuki nodded politely towards the washerwoman.
The old washer stared balefully at the knight, then at the master. "You're sure, aren't you? More trouble than he's worth, that boy."
"I have every faith that Diarmuid will be able to execute my orders to satisfaction," Watanuki answered. "It is a matter of time."
The old woman snorted. "Be careful when you send him or your soul out then. Too many times, and you'll drift off with the tides, shopkeeper."
"Good advice, and that my washing has been cared for," Watanuki politely replied. "Fare thee well, washerwoman of the ford4."
"Good tidings," the former Servant added. "I hope, that the banshee5 is alright."
The washerwoman snorted, disappearing back into the mist. "She'll learn, the brat. You care about yourself more, Diarmuid, son of Donn. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, that."
With the spirit gone, Lancer, or Diarmuid, simply bowed his head in the coming tides.
"Shall we, then?" Watanuki turned back to look at the inside of the house. "There is work to be done."
2Luck of the Irish, anyone?
3The Other Wiki says that the Fianna the stories of the Fenian Cycle, set around the time of Cormac mac Art (father of Gráinne), depict the Fianna as a single standing army in the service of the High King, although it contains two rival factions, the Clann Baíscne of Leinster, led by Fionn mac Cumhail (the slightly too-jealous king who ultimately caused Diarmuid to die), and the Clann Morna of Connacht, led by Goll mac Morna, and lives apart from society, surviving by hunting.
4'Bean nighe', or the Washerwoman of the Ford. A type of Irish faerie.
5Again, see Irish faeries.